Endothelial expression of matrix metalloproteinase-9 (MMP-9), which degrades native type IV collagen, was implicated as a prerequisite for angiogenesis. Therefore, the aim of this study was to determine signaling requirements that regulate MMP-9 expression in endothelial cells. Both, primary and permanent human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVEC and ECV304, respectively) were stimulated with phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate (PMA) and the cytokine tumor necrosis factor-(alpha) (TNF(alpha)) to induce MMP-9 expression. While both cell types responded to PMA at the protein, mRNA and promoter level by induction of MMP-9, TNF(alpha) caused this response only in ECV304. Inhibitors specific for mitogen-activated protein/ERK kinase 1/2 (MEK1/2), protein kinase C (PKC), and Ras and co-transfections of wild-type and mutant Raf were used to elucidate the signaling cascades involved. Thus, we could show that the Raf/MEK/ERK cascade is mainly responsible for MMP-9 induction in endothelial cells and that this cascade is regulated independently of PKC and Ras subsequent to TNF(alpha) stimulation and in a PKC-dependent manner as a result of PMA treatment. In addition, PMA triggers a Ras-dependent signal transduction pathway bypassing the phosphorylation of ERK. Finally, we provide evidence that sustained phosphorylation of ERK1/2 is necessary but not sufficient for expression of MMP-9.

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